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January 22, 2014

International Initiatives: Justice Audit, Bangladesh

by Dan Rodriguez

Professor Tom Geraghty’s work in Ethiopia is well known, but his energies and enthusiasms are not limited only to that country. Last fall, he led a group of law students to Bangladesh, where they worked on an interesting new project called a “Justice Audit.” The audit gathers data about a country’s criminal justice system to create a tool that citizens can use to deeply understand “…how the justice process works, the points of system pressure and associated challenges, as well as opportunities to apply good practices to solve problems.”

The Northwestern Law team worked with the Governance & Justice Group's ground team in the GIZ (the German development agency) offices in Dhaka for two weeks to coordinate data collection, discuss challenges and findings, and strategize the presentation of the information to the Government of Bangladesh and other stakeholders.

The Northwestern Law team worked with the Governance & Justice Group’s ground team in the GIZ (the German development agency) offices in Dhaka for two weeks to coordinate data collection, discuss challenges and findings, and strategize the presentation of the information to the Government of Bangladesh and other stakeholders.

Katherine Klein, a student who worked on this audit, wrote an interesting report about her experiences, which I am happy to share with you here:

“During the fall semester 2013 I was one of four students selected to participate in an intensive senior research project supervised by Professor Geraghty. As a team of five representing Northwestern Law School, we were participating in the second ever Justice Audit conducted by an international legal consulting firm, the Governance and Justice Group, based in Portugal.

A Justice Audit is an intensive, data-rich study of the major justice-seeking institutions in a country, including the courts, legal aid providers, police, prisons, and prosecutors. The Justice Audit methodology, designed by the Governance and Justice Group, gathers statistical information on the flow of cases and individuals through a justice system, to show governments and policy makers what is happening at any given time. It is hoped that governments and policy makers will use the data as a catalyst for changes they see necessary in their own system.

In addition to gathering institutional data, the Justice Audit included practitioner surveys of many personnel such as judges, police officials, and detainees, as well as a 6,000-person survey to gauge citizen perceptions of their options for seeking justice and resolving disputes.

As participants in the Justice Audit methodology—the first ever with both student and academician participants—none of us knew what to expect. From workload, to in-country fieldwork in Bangladesh, everything was abstract and always a moving target.

At the outset of the semester we began an intensive desk review phase to learn as much as possible about the legal landscape in the country before arriving. The desk review was fascinating. Pouring over Bangladeshi statutes forced us to ask critical questions about the components of a functioning and efficient legal system. Such a critical, intimate look into another legal system is a rare opportunity in legal education.

As the political situation heated up, and eventually began to boil over in Bangladesh, our departure for five weeks of fieldwork was delayed. Although everyone was disappointed at the delay, the desk review continued, which was probably for the better as it was such a large task. The delay, much like the eventual time in Dhaka, was a good lesson in the realities of international legal consulting work. One moment, things are calm and itineraries are set, only to be cancelled the next.

Despite the numerous cancellations and security restrictions placed on the Justice Audit team as a whole, we eventually all managed to make it to Dhaka to work together. With consultants participating from all across the globe (Brooklyn, Chicago, Islamabad, London, the Maldives, and Portugal) the ability to all sit in one time zone and work side by side was invaluable, and a relief to everyone’s sleep schedule.

Security concerns were high the entire time we were in Dhaka, so we did not spend much time outside of the office. The opportunity to do fieldwork and to learn more about Bangladeshi culture was regrettably missed, but the ability to see data flow in from all the sectors of the justice institutions, and to think critically about the story that data tells was a fascinating experience. It made me really stop and think about the role each discrete institution plays in a larger system, and the impact that system can have on the lives of individual citizens. As can be seen by the statistics emerging in Bangladesh, a poorly functioning system leaves citizens with few places to turn to seek justice and dispute resolution.

Bangladesh is fraught with the challenges of development. The population is massive; the legal system is archaic, and slow. Formal dispute resolution is hard to attain for anyone unable to pay exorbitant fees. And yet around every corner, we were able to draw analogies to parts of the American legal system that suffer similar frustrations.

We as students learned to view laws and legal proceedings through a more critical lens. The mentorship we received during the project from Professor Geraghty and our international colleagues was phenomenal. The project might not have taken shape quite as we expected, but the shape it did eventually take was abundantly educational.”

Students Rebba Omer, Katherine Klein, and Kelsey Green (as well as Dennie Byam, not pictured) joined Professor Tom Geraghty for two weeks in Bangladesh after having spent the first half of the semester drafting research papers and collaborating with the rest of the team to map out the steps of the Justice Audit.

Students Rebba Omer, Katherine Klein, and Kelsey Green (as well as Dennie Byam, not pictured) joined Professor Tom Geraghty for two weeks in Bangladesh after having spent the first half of the semester drafting research papers and collaborating with the rest of the team to map out the steps of the Justice Audit.

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